At first glance the game of 9-Ball is a fast paced game full of crowd pleasing shot making and flourishing safety play, concussive breaks and jaw dropping jump shots. To me 9-Ball is much more than that. The game has so many subtle nuances that are often overlooked. Yes, shot making is a major part of 9-Ball but true top notch 9-Ball is somewhat less flamboyant and more about sound decision making. Earl Strickland once said that “9-Ball is a game of controlled aggression.”
To play top notch 9-Ball just take one look at any top professional player. They make it look so easy. The reason they make it look so effortless is that they make sound decisions to set themselves up for the best possible chance to win the game. Yes they also have amazing skills when it comes to their ability to repeat their fundamentals, and we can achieve those same results with practice, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking like a top notch 9-Ball player while we are honing those skills as well.
To help you understand what I am talking about, we will go through the thought process that goes through a top players mind at the beginning of a game. Once the balls are broke, I go through the following checklist in my head…..
1. CAN I RUN OUT FROM HERE? Let’s assume you broke the balls and made a ball on the break. The first thing I look at is how open are the balls, and do I have a shot at the lowest ball on the table. If so, I begin to survey the rack and plan my route. If the balls are wide open and often they are, I try and figure out how I can run out. I always look for a path that requires very minimal cue ball movement. By limiting how much the cue ball travels around the table I am able to minimize the risk of getting out of line or snookering myself (the last thing I want to do is miss or give up ball in hand on a wide open table. At a top level this can cost you not only that game but possibly the next game if your opponent is capable of running multiple racks himself).
2. WHAT IS THE KEY SHOT TO THIS RACK? The key shot is that one shot in the runout that must be executed to near perfection. The one shot, that if you get it done right, will open up the table for an easy run out. Sometimes it can be an easy shot. It can be as simple as just getting position on the proper side of the ball to assist in getting around the table. Other times it can be a difficult position shot. Either way you must identify this shot and take care working your way to it, so that when you get there you can unlock the runout by making that key shot.
3. IF I CAN’T RUN OUT, WHERE AND WHEN IS THE BEST PLACE TO PLAY SAFE? You may have a very runnable table accept for one cluster that is just impossible to get to. In this scenario I will survey my options and decide to either play safe early (say on my first shot) or I might play a few balls and play position to play a good defensive shot. No matter where I do this I will be thinking about it before I get down on the first ball. It is always important to have a plan. The reason the top professionals are at the top is because they have a plan. Always think before you begin your run. Something this simple plan can improve your chances of winning ten fold.
After you break, remember to ask these three questions:
1. Can I run out from here?
2. Where is the key shot?
3. If I can’t run out, where do I play safe?
Try it out sometime, you will begin to think like a top notch 9-Ball player.
Until next time